Houston, we have a problem

I

It is a temporarily insane and somewhat delusional parent who books a holiday, takes their pint sized child on board an aeroplane and thinks that they will actually be able to sit back and enjoy their peanuts.

Air travel can be testing on the nerves at the best of times. Try to maintain an advanced yoga position for hours on end while simultaneously battling with a bagged and sealed headset and a renegade tray table, and fun will never be a word that springs to mind. Add a fractious squirming eel into the equation and you may well be wishing you’d just stayed at home and had a spray tan instead.

Traveling with children is never intended to be a pleasant experience, from the moment you drag them tired and grumpy from their beds and shoe horn them into a packed and waiting car. But it is what comes next that is as near to any military operation as found in downtown Baghdad.

First comes the careful manoeuvring of the overloaded trolleys, out of the car park and through the revolving terminal doors (the ones that either go too slow or literally threaten to cut your family in half). Then, once you have dug out your flight details from the bottom of the bag at the bottom of the trolley, you still need to negotiate your way through the dangerous hairpin bends of the swinging red ropes at check in. And all of this to then be greeted by a member of staff, who so obviously doesn’t want to be there and is simply spoiling for a fight. Namely over the said overloaded trolleys lurking behind you.

Airport security is now incredibly strict. Not a bad thing of course, but it does have the tendency to make you feel unnecessarily guilty and doubting whether you did actually pack your own bags or not. Cuticle clippers and bottled water now come under the category ‘potential deadly weapon’, and if I had a dollar for every pair of nail scissors taken off me under silent protest, I would almost be rich enough to fly First Class.

So, what I have always wondered about is this. If an undisclosed aerosol in your carry on can be enough to have you branded a terrorist, why, when asking whether your bags contain any dangerous items, do they (thankfully) fail to notice the most obvious item of all – the angelic looking little time bomb sat in a pram by your feet?

It is after all a known fact that a child in an vacuum sealed capsule can sometimes be as annoying and potentially hazardous as a mosquito trapped in your sleeping bag.

As you settle your fifty essential bags in around you and note that the amount of leg room has obviously been reduced since you last flew, the enormity of what lies ahead can hit you like a cold hard slap in the face. Concerned neighbouring passengers will start eyeing up your child, trying to determine whether they are a screamer or a kicker, and then subtly scan the plane for any empty seats. And who can really blame them. Every child free person, whether they admit it or not, has at some point wished a hasty rubbish shoot exit on some nearby spawn of Satan who has screeched for hours and bruised the small of their spine.

By the time the novelty of the window blind has worn off, the seat covers have been re-branded with washable markers and the ink has been sucked from the in-flight magazine, (all of this before even leaving the jet way) then comes the real test of a parent’s patience and inner strength. As you start taxing towards the runway and the flight stretches out before you, you will wonder why this trip ever seemed a good idea and if you are flying half way around the world, how on earth are you going to keep a bored and restless child seated, entertained and quiet in a space barely large enough to swing a hamster.

By the time they have grown bored of their toys, lost half of their Lego and suitably irritated both the people behind and in front, it is easy for murderous thoughts to start creeping in. These thoughts are often accompanied by cold sweats, tears and a silent vow to never fly again.

While most socially conscious parents vow that they would never let their child roam the aisles like a pack of hungry wolves, when it becomes a choice between that or DVT, you may well hoist junior off your lap and turn a blind eye. You are, after all safe in the knowledge that all the doors are child locked and every route will eventually bring them back to you. The only time when this is probably not advisable is around meal times, when there is a likelihood of them being mowed down by a renegade cart of chicken and beef.

For many parents mealtimes at home can be a daily battle field, leaving physical and mental scars for all involved. When trying to enforce the same principles of a clean plate, a well balanced diet and an ‘eat not throw’ policy’ at 2am, the result can be nearer on a bloodbath. More often than not the bread roll is the only thing on offer that will grab their attention. Unfortunately the roll is also the only thing on the tray that would also kill a passerby if dropped off a two storey building.

Pre-ordering a child’s meal does mean they are served first, giving you an iota of a chance of supervising and possibly controlling the scale of the inevitable fall out. On the downside however, the meal can also be loaded down with so many sugar filled treats that you may as well just hold their head back and pour blue smarties down their throat. The administering of E numbers in such a confined space is only advisable upon leaving the plane, when you need your child to walk on their own two feet.

Newborn babies probably make the best travelling companions of all. They can be put to sleep (not literally of course) in a bassinet, or if you forget to book one, they are still small enough to be held without the fear of pulling any major back muscles. If breastfeeding is still on the menu life is much easier still. It can help to combat the changing cabin pressure and stop their small ear from popping during take off and landing. It is very tempting however to make yourself the in-flight buffet in exchange for peace and potential sleep, but be warned by one who has tried this method before. Not only will you eventually stagger off the aeroplane feeling like a deflated cow, you are also very likely to overfill their small stomach. If this happens you run the risk of having your hours of your hard work returned in force all over you, your clothes, the seat and the passenger in the chair next to you.

If your child is sick (and the laws of probability say it will happen at some point), it can be a totally and utterly mortifying experience, enough to make you want to crawl under your seat and hide. But as widespread as the destruction and overpowering smell can be, and let me tell you waves of vomit or curdled milk sweeping through economy class can be pretty horrendous, there is absolutely nothing you can do but control and contain. At this point you better be hoping you had the foresight to pack spare clothes, otherwise your already upset child may well be leaving in an aircraft pillow case.

So how do you survive a flight and have the courage to face the same again on your return journey? The answer is patience, inner calm, acceptance and above all a sense of humour. Remember that from a child’s perspective, having their parent trapped in a seat next to them is actually a dream come true. So as much as you may want to finish your book or watch the in flight movie, if you can find the inner strength and energy to give your child your undivided attention, they might just surprise you and act like an angel. Of course if none of these options work then thinly veiled threats, bribery or Benadryl usually do the trick.

Finally, a word for all those passengers who fly with nothing more than a backpack, handbag or computer in tow.

If you don’t want to help a nearby parent by picking up a runaway beaker, playing peek-a-boo with their baby or even offering a pair of arms when the mother simply can’t keep her knees crossed any longer, then at least hold off with the hostile muttering and murderous looks. What you have before you is probably a parent who, short of knocking their child over the head and stuffing them in bag, has very little control over the situation. They are no doubt all ready stressed to breaking point and covered in hives, so you making them feel worse about their child’s behaviour is really not going to help matters at all.

And if you can’t be nice – buy Business.

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3 thoughts on “Houston, we have a problem

    1. So so true. Having just returned from a “holiday” with our 2 yr old, the outbound flight was by far the worst flight of our lives. Unfortunately the people sat in front of us made us fully aware our child had also made it the worst of their lives by giving us murderous looks, tuts, grunts and everything else that goes with it.

      However, despite all of this, for some reason unknown to me, we’re already planning our next long haul… I’m thinking of printing out your blog, laminating it and then distributing it to anyone sat around us who doesn’t have children with them.

      Paul.

      1. I think most parents have gone through one of ‘those’ flights’ at some point or another! We just flew from Perth to England (and then back!), and I have to say it was the longest 48 hours of my life. Yes, please do print and distribute the blog! Maybe you could slip a copy into every seat pocket, along with the emergency landing instructions!

        Good luck with the next trip, and if it’s any consolation, it does get a bit easier as they get older. I recommend a portable DVD player and their favourite show – let the people around you listen to Thomas the Tank Engine or the Tellytubbies for hours on end instead!

        Rachel 🙂

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